Edible Buds and Flowers
Buds swelling on trees and shrubs are one of the first signs of spring. Some of these early blooming trees have buds and flowers that are edible. Some of these have a fragrant scent that lead you to them while others come up in your backyard.
Flowers have a variety of tastes. Many flowers have a taste similar to their scent and range from spicy to sweet to almost no taste at all. How they are used is equally variable. Get familiar with the different tastes by nibbling on them before adding to a dish.
Dandelions start blooming early, with flower heads appearing randomly in lawns. This is the time to start looking for the buds located in the center of the rosette. Flower buds and flowers are edible. But the best flowers are when you see a profusion of yellow flower heads covering the lawns, growing out of the sidewalks, or popping up in landscaped gardens. These are the sweetest. As the season progresses, the flowers tend to get bitter as do the leaves.
Members of the mustard family have flower buds that look like miniature versions of cultivated broccoli. When the flower buds open, the four petals form a cross, giving them the generic name of crucifers. The colors vary from white and yellow to pink and purple. All mustards are edible and have a spicy odor and taste, some more so than others. Almost all of them are palatable in some form. Flower buds and flowers are edible, either raw or cooked.
The fruit of members of the mustard family is a pod-looking capsule containing seeds inside. Some are long and narrow while others are short and round. Some split open easily while others are tough and hard. The seeds, even though small, are quite spicy and can be ground up and used as a spice or seasoning.
Violets are familiar weeds for most people. They come up in lawns, in the forest, along stream banks, and just about every place where people go. Some have blue flowers, others have white, and one has yellow—this is the one you don't eat.
Violet flowers taste mildly sweet. They can be eaten raw, infused in water for a flower tea or candied and made into jams, jellies, and syrups.
Elder is a native shrub with representatives throughout the United States. The most common one in the eastern states is common elder. There is also another elder, the red-berried elder, which is considered poisonous. Common elder grows along ditches, stream banks, hedgerows, and edges of swamps and blooms in the later part of spring with an abundance of large, white, flat-topped clusters of flowers.
Elder often grows in areas where you don't want to gather, such as the roadside, edges of fields that have been sprayed with pesticides, or near polluted waterways. Inspect the surroundings before gathering flowers. Also, learn to distinguish it from water hemlock that also has white, flat-topped clusters of flowers.
Finding elder is easy. The large, white flowers can be spotted from the car while driving down the road. Once the flower heads have filled out, use pruning scissors to snip off the tops. Elder flowers are edible, either dipped in batter and fried or infused in water for a tea. They can also be dried and used later to make tea.
Herbalist and botanist Christopher Hobbs, at an herb conference, referred to elder flowers as a blood mover. If you are holding heat in one part of your body, as with eczema or other skin conditions, elder flowers will help clear the blood of heat and toxins.
Legumes are in the pea family and have the characteristic pea-like flowers. Redbuds and black locusts are both members of this family that have edible flowers.
Redbuds are easy to recognize in the spring with their fuchsia-colored flowers that appear before the leaves have unfolded in the early spring. They grow along the branches and sometimes the trunk of the tree. The flowers have a sweet-tart flavor and can be added to salads or desserts.
Two different species of redbuds grow in the east and the west. In the east it can be found from New Jersey south to central Florida and west to Texas and Nebraska. In the western part of the country it grows on dry slopes and in canyons and foothills.
There are eastern and western species of black locust trees. Both species have thorns and pinnately divided leaves, which means there are multiple leaves arranged on each side of a common axis. The word “pinnate” comes from a Latin word meaning “feather.” The flowers of the eastern species are white, while those of the western species are pinkish-purple. Both are edible.
Wild bean with pod and flower
In the spring before the sassafras leaves have emerged, small yellowish-green flowers appear at the end of the stems. Male and female flowers are usually on separate trees. Flowers are mildly spicy and can be nibbled raw or added to salads or cooked dishes.